* Gaddafi and Venezuela’s Chavez share distrust of U.S.
* Libyan minister also says report “groundless”
(Adds denial by Libyan deputy foreign minister)
By Frank Jack Daniel
CARACAS, Feb 21 (Reuters) - The Venezuelan government on Monday denied reports that Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was on his way to the South American country following violent protests against his rule.
Libya’s deputy foreign minister also dismissed the idea.
Attracted to Gaddafi’s revolutionary past, Venezuela’s socialist President Hugo Chavez also casts himself as an anti-U.S. stalwart on the international stage, and the pair enjoy warm ties.
Adding to media rumours, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said earlier he had seen information to suggest Gaddafi had fled Libya and was on his way to the fellow oil-exporting country.
The Venezuelan government “denies such information”, a senior government source told Reuters.
He added it was unlikely the leader who had ruled Libya for more than 40 years would come to Venezuela.
“It is not planned,” the source said.
Speaking on Libyan state television, Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kayem also said the report was “groundless”, adding: “It has no basis.”
Gaddafi’s rule appeared in increasing jeopardy on Monday as anti-government protests reached the capital for the first time, leaving dozens dead at the hands of the security forces.
Diplomats said the information Hague referred to was separate from reports in recent days by several Arab world media that Gaddafi was headed to Venezuela.
Chavez, a popular figure in much of the Muslim world who took office 12 years ago, has visited Libya half a dozen times. Gaddafi travelled to Venezuela in 2009 and gave Chavez one of the large tents he holds court in on foreign visits.
Libya is Africa’s fourth biggest oil exporter, while Venezuela is South America’s top oil exporter.
U.S. crude oil futures surged by more than $5 a barrel to over $91 on Monday, their biggest one-day gain in over two years, in part on the violence in OPEC producer Libya, while European Brent crude surged by more than $2.70 a barrel to hit a post-2008 high of $105.28 a barrel.
Venezuelan officials seemed surprised by the rumour Gaddafi might come, although Chavez is famous for taking unexpected decisions. (Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Dobbie)